Readers comments 11-21-14
The party of no
The US Senate missed passing the pipeline bill by 1 vote this week.
Although the majority (including 14 Democrats) voted for the bill 59-41, 60 votes were needed to pass (an odd anomaly in this age of majority rule).
Although one of the Louisiana Senators who is facing re-election favored it, she was not able to convince 40 of her Democratic colleagues and one independent voter. So who is the party of no now?
The media claims that this is an issue between environmentalists and big oil.
But if you do some research, you will find that Warren Buffett owns majority interest in the railroad that currently ships oil from Canada/Alaska to the US. His profit interests would be severely damaged by this pipeline, which would also create a number of jobs during its construction.
Next steps with water
Now that the community has approved funding for purchase of our water system from Golden State Water Company, it’s time to take the next step. That step is for the city council to approve a Resolution of Necessity stating that acquisition of the system is in the best interests of our community. They will hear public comment and vote on this at the meeting starting at 6:30 p.m. at city hall on Tuesday, November 25. Please attend the meeting and voice your support, or send a message to the council through the city website.
Once this is approved, the city can move forward with eminent domain proceedings.
It’s time for solid answers
Now that voters have passed Measure W, the time has come for the city to drop its “hope and change” rhetoric and provide concrete answers to some very important questions.
Such information may support the prudence of continuing to spend taxpayer dollars pursuing the takeover of the water system, and might even be enough to convince Golden State to drop its opposition and begin good faith negotiations for the sale, saving both sides a ton of money.
First, if the water system is acquired, who will run it and at what cost? We know that the city of LaVerne is one possibility but, if it declines, then who else will? Can a long-term operations agreement be obtained so that Claremont can’t be “hung out to dry” on short notice? How does the city plan to perform functions that will not be contracted out, such as customer service, billing, collections or operations oversight (e.g., making sure Claremont customers get just as good service as the contracted operator’s other customers)?
Next, how does the city plan to prove “necessity” for the takeover? Water service has been good. Water rates, admittedly, will initially be higher after a takeover. A simple “desire to acquire” is not enough to win an eminent domain lawsuit. The city must prove a public need for the change in ownership, and we need a plan that has a reasonable chance of success.
What is the current condition of the water infrastructure? How will the city fund both planned and emergency repairs and replacement? Does the $55 million valuation include water rights? If not, can eminent domain be used to acquire the water rights in addition to the physical infrastructure, and at what cost?
Finally, what are the going-forward costs and risks of pursuing the takeover? To ensure repayment, the revenue bonds cannot be issued until the system has been acquired.
Will other priorities (e.g., new police station, unfunded city pensions) leave sufficient money for a lengthy court battle, if needed? If the city is not successful in acquiring the system, will it have to pay Golden State’s legal costs in defending its property rights?
Had Measure W gone down to defeat, such questions would have become moot. However, its passage should not be viewed as a directive for acquiring the water system at any cost.
Water is but one of the many issues that the city faces, and it must act responsibly, doing what is best for its citizens at each decision point along the way.
Congratulations to Claremont voters who took the first urgent step on the journey toward ownership of our water system. Seventy-one percent told the city council we support using a $135 million line of credit for purchasing it. What are the next steps?
1. The city has once again extended an offer to GSW to negotiate a purchase price, and the company did not accept it.
2. The next step is a public hearing on adopting a Resolution of Necessity declaring that public ownership of our water system is a necessary.public benefit. The issue is on the agenda of the Tuesday, November 25 city council meeting at 6:30 p.m. Interested citizens are invited to attend. If adopted, the resolution will be filed in the Superior Court of Los Angeles County for approval. The right of a city to own its public utilities is not usually a contentious issue in court.
3. If the court approves the Resolution of Necessity, Claremont can file eminent domain proceedings. Eminent domain is the legal right of a public agency (the city) to acquire land or facilities necessary for public well-being. In filing for eminent domain, a city has the right [Civil Code Sec. 1255.410] to ask the court for possession of the property by depositing the amount of a court-approved appraisal as “just compensation” into the county treasury even before judgment has been entered. If the court grants early possession, the owner will have approximately 90 to 120 days to vacate the property.
4. A final price will still be set by the court. Either side may request a jury trial. It is assumed this case will be heard before a jury. The court will consider documents and testimony to determine “fair market value” of the system. Each side must present an appraisal by a state certified appraiser. The value is usually a compromise between two contending appraisals. Claremont’s appraisal is for $55 million; GSW has not yet provided an appraisal. [In Felton, Cal-American Water settled “out of court” just as the trial went to the jury. One cannot count on such an easy settlement.]
How long will the eminent domain process take? It depends on court schedules, on what suits are filed and on what delays encountered. We residents will have to be patient but persistent with our long-term goal firmly in mind: acquiring local control of our own water service.
We are on our way, friends! Have courage! We will yet own our own water works!
Marilee Scaff, PhD